Giovanni Ferretti became pontiff in 1846, taking the name Pius IX (a.k.a. Pio Nono). His 32-year pontificate (1846 – 78) was filled with military, political, and cultural turmoil, as Italian nationalists sought to unify Italy into a modern nation state. Pius IX strenuously opposed the unification movement, Il Risorgimento, (“Resurgence”) because, among other things, its success would sound the death knell for the Papal States, territories in the Italian peninsula under the sovereign direct rule of the Pope since the 6th century. He believed, like popes before him, that temporal sovereignty of the Holy See (the so-called Patrimony of St. Peter) was indispensable to the Church’s spiritual authority. The Papal States were regarded as an obstacle to Italian unification because they stretched across most of central Italy, cutting off the south from the north. Risorgimento was the ideological and literary movement that roused Italian nationalism and led to a series of political events that eventually freed Italian city-states and principalities from foreign domination. Rather than adapt the Church to the liberal trends unleashed by the Age of Revolution, Pius IX, like his predecessors, chose to resist them. He declared “war” on Modernism — a war waged by the Church until 1965, when Vatican Council II finally declared a truce.
For Pius IX, modernity signified everything that was evil in society, including, among other things, freedom of religion/religious tolerance; freedom of speech, thought, and press; separation of church and state. In his attempt to stem the tide of history, Jews became a symbol of modernity because they were among the leaders and beneficiaries of it. In his view, they were an existential threat to the Church and divinely ordained society. In November, 1848, Pius IX’s secretary of state was assassinated. Fearing chaos and popular revolt, he became the third pope in fifty years to flee Rome into exile. The following month Giuseppe Garibaldi’s republican army entered Rome. A unified Italian Republic was declared. As happened when Napoleon’s army occupied Rome earlier in the nineteenth century, Jews were freed from the ghetto and granted rights of citizenship. Jewish emancipation, however, once again proved to be short-lived, because in 1850 temporal authority of the Papal States was restored to the status quo ante, this time, ironically, by French troops, pursuant to a concordat between the Holy See and Emperor Napoleon III. Returning from exile, contending that the Church was a “perfect society,” Pius IX denounced the Italian revolutionary movement and re-established his anti-nationalist, paternalistic regime, thereby alienating most educated Catholics and his own counselor, Monsignor Giovanni Corboli-Bussi, who described it as “reactionary and maladroit.” A united Italy and end of the papacy’s rule of the Papal States, Pius declared, was blasphemy.
The Communist Manifesto
While Pius IX was in exile in 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto, which quickly became a nightmare for the papacy. Manifesto advocated a classless and stateless society, abolition of private property, free love, and the abolition of inheritance. Worst of all, it advocated the abolition of religion, describing it as the “illusory happiness of the people” and as the “opiate of the people” — obvious shots across the bow of absolutist church authority. That Karl Marx was a Jew, predictably, fueled animosity against Jews. The papacy’s nightmare became reality some seventy years later when the Russian Revolution (1917–18) resulted in the overthrow of the Czarist absolute monarchy, execution of the royal family, expropriation and confiscation of church property, and elimination of churches (Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox) in Russia. Religion in Russia was abolished and replaced with materialistic atheism. Like Judaism, Bolshevism in the twentieth century, would become an existential threat to the Church and European society, a situation which Hitler would exploit in his writings and rhetoric by railing against Judeo-Bolshevism.
The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara
Bologna, 1858: A police squad, acting on orders of the Roman Inquisitor, invaded the home of a Jewish merchant, Momolo Mortara, wrenched his crying six-year-old son, Edgardo, from his arms, and rushed him off in a carriage bound for Rome. Edgardo’s mother was so distraught that she collapsed in grief and had to be taken to a neighbor’s house. With this terrifying scene, David I. Kertzer, begins his book, “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara,” and launches into his investigation of the dramatic abduction, showing how this previously little known incident contributed to the eventual collapse of the Church’s temporal power in Italy. As Edgardo’s parents desperately searched for a way to get their son returned to them, Kertzer relates, they learned why he, out of their eight children, was taken away. Years earlier, the family’s Catholic servant girl, fearful that the infant Edgardo might die of illness had secretly baptized him. Edgardo recovered, but when the story of the baptism reached the Holy Inquisitor, it resulted in an order for Edgardo to be seized and sent to a special monastery where Jews were converted into Catholics.
The Inquisitor’s justification for taking the child was based on Church practice (not doctrine): No Christian child could be raised by Jewish parents. The case of Edgardo Mortara became an international cause célèbre. Although such kidnappings were not uncommon in Jewish communities across Europe, this time the political climate had changed dramatically. Public opinion began to turn against the Vatican as news of the family’s plight spread to Britain, where the influential Rothschild family got involved; to France, where it mobilized Napoleon III; and even to the United States. Refusing to return the child to his family, Pius XI considered Edgardo as his son and despite the family’s repeated pleas, his parents were not allowed to see him. Edgardo was eventually adopted by Pius IX, renounced his parents, and later ordained a priest. In 1946, close to 100 years later, Pope Pius XII refused to permit the return to surviving relatives of “hidden” Jewish children of French nationality who were baptized during the Holocaust. In 2005, the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, discovered a letter dated November 20, 1946, in which Pius XII ordered that Jewish children baptized during the Holocaust were not to be returned to their parents. Pius’ defenders claim that the letter is either a forgery or a misinterpretation.
According to John Cornwell, author of Hitler’s Pope, the notion of Jewish obstinacy was a crucial element in the case of Edgardo Mortara. He wrote:
When the parents of the kidnapped Edgardo pleaded in person with the Pope for the return of their son, Pio Nono told them that they could have their son back at once if only they converted to Catholicism which, of course, they would do instantly if they opened their hearts to Christian revelation. But they would not, and did not. The Mortaras, according to Pio Nono, had brought all their suffering upon their own heads as a result of their obduracy.” This is an example of blaming the victim for the victim’s calamity.
Despite an international outcry and strong diplomatic pressure from Emperor Napoleon III of France (whose troops were defending Rome against the Italian republican army) and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, Pius IX refused to change his position. No less than twenty critical editorials were published in The New York Times alone. Pius’ obstinate refusal to relent undermined whatever public support remained for continuation of the Papal States.
Syllabus of Errors
In December 1864, Pius IX published the encyclical Quanta cura (“How much care”) with the famous Syllabus Errorum (“Syllabus of Errors”) attached, a list of 80 errors which he, as pope, condemned, including, among other things, religious freedom; separation of church and state; freedom of thought, expression and press; bible societies; rationalism; socialism; democracy; communism; and the end church control of public schools. One of the errors read:
“That in the present day, it is no longer necessary that the Catholic Church be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other modes of worship; whence it has been wisely provided by the law, in some countries nominally Catholic, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the free exercise of their own worship…That the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself to, and agree with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization.”
Article 19 of the Syllabus of Errors declared that the Church was a perfect society and, therefore, had no need to change. Later, contending that the Church was besieged by demonic forces, a conspiracy of secret sects (i.e., Freemasons and Jews), Pius XI proclaimed: “It is from them (the Jews) that the synagogue of Satan, which gathers its troops against the Church of Christ, takes its strength.”
Also in 1864, Maurice Joly published a satire attacking Napoleon III entitled, Dialogue aux Enfers entre Montesquieu et Machiavel (“Dialogue in Hell Between Montesquieu and Machiavelli”). Joly’s work would become the basis for the literary hoax, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to be published in the early twentieth century.
In 1865 the Ku Klux Klan was founded in the United States, an anti-black and anti-Jewish organization. In 1867, German journalist and anti-Semite Wilhelm Marr published a widely popular book, Victory of Judaism over Germanism, in which he coined the word “anti-Semitism.”
Pope Endorses Blood Libel
In 1867, Pius IX endorsed the blood libel myth when he decreed that the cult surrounding an allegedly martyred child, Lorenzino of Marastica, would be accorded official status. According to church accounts, on Good Friday 1485, when Lorenzino went out to play, Jews seized him, tore off his clothes and crucified him on a nearby tree, draining his blood to make Passover matzos. In 1869, Henri Gougenot des Mousseaux published a book entitled, “The Jew: Judaism and the Judaization of Christian Peoples,” arguing that Jews required the blood of Christian children for their Passover matzos. Pius IX praised the book and its author, awarding him the Cross of Commander of the Papal Order.
Also in 1867, Pius IX spearheaded the effort to have Peter Arbues, an Augustinian monk and a fifteenth century inquisitor famed for the forcible conversion of Jews, canonized to sainthood. In the canonization document of St. Peter Arbues, Pius IX wrote: “Divine wisdom has arranged that in these sad days, when Jews help the enemies of the Church with their books and money, this decree of sanctity has been brought to fulfillment.”
Vatican Council I
With the collapse of the Papal States, the papacy’s siege mentality, which began with the Protestant Reformation, ratcheted up another notch. In response to the revolutionary waves battering the Church, Pius IX convened Vatican Council I (1869–70), which, under his firm control, affirmed the Syllabus of Errors, and proclaimed as dogma the doctrine of papal infallibility. Dogma is defined as an established belief or doctrine that is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from upon threat of excommunication.” Lord Acton (1834–1902) in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creigton in 1887 penned his famous “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” to express his opposition to papal infallibility. The pope, the Council decreed, has:
“…full and supreme authority of jurisdiction over the whole Church, not only in matters that pertain to faith and morals, but also in matters that pertain to the discipline and government of the Church through the whole world.” Further, this power is ‘ordinary’ (i.e. not to be delegated) and immediate (i.e. not exercised through any other party)…over each and every Church (and) over each and every shepherd and faithful.”
Regarding infallibility: “It is divinely revealed dogma that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra (“from the Chair’), that is, when acting in the office of shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he defines, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, possesses through the divine assistance promised to him in the person of Blessed Peter, the infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to be endowed in defining the doctrine concerning faith or morals; and that such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are therefore irreformable of themselves, not because of the consent of the Church.”
About Vatican Council I’s declaration of papal infallibility, Fr. Richard P. McBrien, the Crowley-O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, author of “Catholicism” and “Lives of the Popes” writes: “No definitions could have been further removed from the teaching of the Council of Constance (1414–18), from the theology and practice of the Eastern Churches, and from the practice of the universal Church, West and East alike, of the first Christian millennium… ”
Publishing the Syllabus of Errors and declaring papal infallibility as dogma were intended to reinforce the doctrines of supercessionism, triumphalism and ultramontainism, both attempts to bolster and centralize authority within the Vatican. “Supercessionism” is the traditional Christian belief that Christianity is the fulfillment of biblical Judaism, and therefore replaces Judaism. “Triumphalism,” a corollary of supercessionism, is defined as the claim that a particular doctrine is superior to and should triumph over all others. “Ultramontanism,” which means “beyond the mountains” (i.e., looking to Rome for guidance), was a movement that sought to counter liberal/modernistic tendencies within the Church and centralize authority within the Vatican.
Ironically, the papacy’s loss of political authority over the Papal States led to an increase of spiritual authority over Catholics worldwide, because, at a time of increasing democratization in Europe and elsewhere, the Church became more autocratic. Vatican influence over the lives of the faithful increased, as authority became more centered in Rome and the authority of bishops within their dioceses and in bishop conferences within regions was diminished. At the same time, Judaism continued to be a primary existential threat to Christianity, second only to atheistic communism. As noted previously, that Jews were among the wealthiest and most influential backers of modernity, which benefitted them in particular, made them especially dangerous to church and state, an attitude that stoked the fires of nascent anti-Semitism. Jacques Kornberg, professor emeritus of history, University of Toronto, and author of “The Vatican and Hitler,” asserted that ultramontanism “mobilized anti-Semitism for its campaign against liberalism.”
In August 1870, Pius IX declared: Before Jesus, the Jews “had been children in the House of God.” But, all that changed, for “owing to their obstinacy and their failure to believe, they became dogs.” Speaking to a group of pilgrims, only a few months after Italian Jews were freed from Rome’s ghetto and made citizens of unified Italy, Pius lamented the result, saying: “We have today in Rome unfortunately too many of these dogs, and we hear them barking in all the streets, and going around molesting people everywhere.”
Papal infallibility is the dictum that by action of the Holy Spirit, the pope is preserved from error when he solemnly promulgates dogmatic teachings on faith or morals. By 1870 most Catholics already believed that a pope had power to define dogma without the concurrence of a church council, which Pius, in fact, did in 1854 when he declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary to be dogma, but no pontiff to that time had ever claimed the power explicitly. Some bishops, including Bernard McQuaid, bishop of Rochester, New York, who attended Vatican Council I, but left before the vote on papal infallibility was taken, believed that making papal infallibility dogma would be a calamity. When the Archbishop of Bologna suggested to Pius that church tradition argued against papal infallibility, Pius IX retorted, “Tradizione!””La Tradizione son Io!” (“Tradition! I am tradition!”), and thereupon reassigned the archbishop to a monastery. It is noteworthy that Louis XIV (1638 –1715), a.k.a. “Sun King” (Fr: le Roi-Soleil), an absolute monarch like the Pope, who ruled as King of France and Navarre for over seventy-two years, said “L’État, c’est moi” (“I am the state.”)
According to John Julius Norwich, author of Absolute Monarchs, A History of the Papacy, for ultramontantists Pius IX was “absolute ruler, unquestioned leader and infallible guide.” No discussion was permitted once the Pope had spoken, Norwich writes; no suggestion tolerated that there might be two sides to any argument. “Roman Catholicism was in danger of becoming akin to a police state, illiberal and bigoted.” Furthermore, Norwich recounts, Britain’s representative to the Holy See, Odo Russell, reporting back to his superiors in London, wrote of the pope’s “unbridled pretensions to absolute control over the souls and bodies of mankind” and his position “at the head of a vast ecclesiastical conspiracy against the principles which govern modern society.” “Liberal Catholics,” Russell continued, “can no longer speak in her (the Church’s) defense without being convicted of heresy.”
Pius IX’s absolutist notion of papal power created serious problems both within and outside the Church. A schism, for example, developed in Holland and elsewhere (i.e. the Old Catholic Church, comprised of former Roman Catholics who rejected the dogma of papal infallibility), and a wave of anticlericalism erupted across Europe, exemplified by Kulturkampf in Bismarck’s Germany. Austria repudiated its concordat with the Vatican and religious confrontations broke out in Switzerland.
Unification of Italy
In August 1871, French troops occupying Rome withdrew to fight in the Franco-Prussian war. The next month, republican troops recaptured Rome and it was declared the capital of unified Italy. In September 1871, the Republic of Italy was born and the final curtain fell on eleven centuries of theocratic rule over much of Italian territory. Europe’s last theocratic government collapsed, along with its governing model based on combined canon and civil law, characterized by state-sanctioned discrimination against adherents of other religions, a church monopoly of education and social services, and the use of police power to enforce canon law and religious observance.
Following unification of Italy, Pius IX, proclaiming himself to be a prisoner of the Vatican, refused to recognize the new Italian state and forbade Catholics upon penalty of excommunication to vote or otherwise participate in Italian civic life. Charging that “the ideals of Italian patriots are the work of the devil,” he excommunicated King Victor Emmanuel II, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Camillo Benso (the Count of Cavour), and anyone who supported the Italian nationalist movement.
Pius IX’s 32 -year pontificate, longest in papal history, marked the beginning of the “modern” papacy. It intensified the papacy’s siege mentality, further concentrated church authority within the Vatican, ramped up church resistance to change, and continued anti-Judaism as a core doctrine. His reign was the most reactionary pontificate of the modern era.
Regarding the end of Pius IX’s pontificate, Richard McBrien writes:
“When Pius IX died on February 7, 1878, he was an exceedingly unpopular pope with the people of Rome and with the educated classes generally, even though he had been an extraordinarily popular pope with the Catholic masses, especially outside of Italy both because of his warmly pious personality and also out of sympathy for all the troubles he had suffered with such serenity and courage. On July 13, 1881, there was a disruption of the procession accompanying his body from its original burial place in St. Peter’s to San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (St. Lawrence’s Outside the Walls). A mob tried unsuccessfully to seize the body and throw it into the Tiber River.”
Beatification of Pius IX
In September, 2000, Pope John Paul II (1978–2005), despite public opposition, beatified Pius IX, the last step before canonization to sainthood. The announcement shocked many admirers of John Paul’s historic fence-mending with Jews, including his prayer at Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, on March 25, 2000. “It hit like a thunderbolt from heaven,” said Elena Mortara, professor of American literature at the University of Rome and great-great-granddaughter of Edgardo Mortara’s sister. “Pius IX’s repression of Jews’ civil rights,” she added, “is in itself serious enough to stop this beatification.”